The tires on our rented Subaru splashed and slid through nearly six inches of wet, heavy snow as we drove through Alaska’s capital city of Juneau. That we were here at all seemed a miracle; precip had combined with heavy fog to make visibility near zero, to the point where even our skilled Alaska Airlines pilots were doubtful of an actual touchdown on Juneau’s runway. The clouds parted, though, and now here we were, in the shadow of rugged mountains and adjacent to a briny Gastineau Channel, on our way to a ski vacation.
Ski vacation? In Juneau?
Word. Juneau is home to Eaglecrest Ski area, a city-owned plot that rivals the big guys, in the middle of Tongass National Forest. Located on Douglas Island across the channel, Eaglecrest is a mere 12 miles from downtown, and has proven its worth over and over with local families who have for generations schussed its carefully crafted runs.
Four lifts, 640 skiable acres, and 1,500 feet of vertical make up the Eaglecrest terrain, but it feels bigger. Expansive even, especially when viewed from the top of the Ptarmigan lift, a ridge-running chair that provides views of the Tongass National Forest and far, far beyond.
While Eaglecrest’s bread and butter comes from weekly ski programs for young and young-at-heart skiers, the local shredders and bump-riders come out in force anytime the “Open” sign is lit. The only formal ski area in southeast Alaska, Eaglecrest draws customers from all over, albeit in a bit different fashion. Some ride the ferry from places like Haines or Skagway, a five-hour trip; some arrive via airplanes operated by Alaska Airlines or smaller companies. But no matter the mode, the result is, as Eaglecrest likes to say, “big mountain soul with small mountain spirit.”
Kids, especially, will feel at home here. From professional instructors and teenage mentors who shepherd their charges up and down the Porcupine lift and endearing obstacle course known as the “ring of fire,” to the middle school pass program to encourage this often-shy group to get outside and ski with peers; Eaglecrest is dialed in to what makes young people tick.
So comfortable was AK Kid, in fact, that we allowed him to go up and down Porcupine alone, and how proud he was, waving at us from behind his oversize goggles. Eaglecrest is small enough that skiers of varying ability levels will feel confident, and large enough that those of us who wanted a bit more could steam to the top and roll on down in the heavy dose of overnight snow.
A small but well-managed lodge features tables and chairs, and ample coat hooks and shelving for families to stash gear during the day. Toddlers clumped around in ski boots and puffy bib overalls, teens shared Instagram photos, and ‘tweens like mine simply sat around, taking it all in over a plate of chicken strips and fries. Parents lounged near windows hoping to catch a glimpse of their offspring sailing by on the way to another run, and staff checked in with customers on a regular basis. Were the lessons fun? Would you like me to clean off that table? How about a sticker?
I never considered flying south to ski in Alaska, but I’m glad we did. The grins were worth it, the people charming, and the snow, just like I remembered from my youthful days skiing the Pacific Northwest.
EAGLECREST SKI AREA: IF YOU GO
FLY Alaska Airlines from Seattle or Anchorage (about two hours either way). HOT TIP: Now through April 13, 2014, skiers can receive either a free lift ticket (if you ski the day you arrive), or a 20% off ticket (good for five days after arrival). Nice! Find the scoop HERE.
LODGING options are plentiful, and TravelJuneau can help arrange everything, from B&B to a downtown hotel.
LIFT TICKETS range from $10/kids to $45/adults. The website has a nice breakdown HERE. An all day Nordic pass is $15. Yes, two trail systems exist at Eaglecrest, and both are great.
BUS SERVICE is available from Juneau; find the schedule HERE.
BEST TIME to ski is in the spring, according to ski area management. March and April mean long daylight hours and delightful spring snow. Maybe even an awesome suntan.
FOOD service is available, and quite good, but for a truly authentic Alaska ski experience, do as we did and bring a picnic. Bread, fruit, cheese, salami, and lots of water to wash it all down. Oh, and chocolate.
WELCOME Eaglecrest to the AKontheGO Family Friendly Business team! Visit the Family-Approved page on our website for a complete listing of kid-worthy places and people. Eaglecrest will be there, shortly.